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No surprises among N.K.’s new deputies

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Published : 2014-03-11 20:44
Updated : 2014-03-11 20:44

North Korea unveiled a new roster of deputies for its rubber-stamp parliament on Tuesday, led by Kim Jong-un and other key military and party officials who altogether won unanimous approval.

The tightly choreographed “election,” the first under the young leader, took place on Sunday. The 687 candidates for the Supreme People’s Assembly pulled in 100 percent of the vote with a 99.97 percent turnout, state media said.

“This represents the absolute support and trust of the entire electors for the regime,” the official Korean Central News Agency said, adding that the absentees were mostly those who work overseas or at sea.

The newly elected deputies include Jang Jong-nam, minister of the People’s Armed Forces; Kim Soo-kil, deputy director of the General Political Bureau of the Korean People’s Army; Jo Yon-jun, senior deputy director of the ruling Workers’ Party’s organization guidance department; and Ma Won-chun, deputy director of the party’s finance and accounting department.

Among the winners are Ji Jae-ryong, Pyongyang’s ambassador to Beijing; Ja Song-nam, its representative at the permanent mission to the U.N.; and Won Dong-yon, deputy head of the United Front Department of the Workers’ Party.

Kim Kyong-hui, the aunt of Kim Jong-un and widow of Jang Song-thaek, his once-powerful yet recently executed uncle, made it to the list, along with some of Jang’s old associates and friends predicted to have been purged, including United Front Department Director Kim Yang-gon and People’s Security Minister Choe Pu-il.

Almost all of Kim’s confidants retained their seats, including Choe Ryong-hae, director of the general political bureau of the military; Ri Yong-gil, chief of the military general staff; Kim Won-hong, minister of state security; Pak Pong-ju, prime minister; and Kim Yong-nam; president of the Supreme People’s Assembly.

But party secretary Mun Kyong-dok was absent, as were others known for their close ties with the late Jang, including Ro Song-sil, chairwoman of the Korean Democratic Women’s Union.

Also missing were retired senior army personnel, apparently reflecting Kim Jong-un’s drive to dilute the influence of the potent, rigid military within his regime.

Kim Yo-jong, the leader’s younger sister who apparently made her debut on the political stage by accompanying her brother on his trip to a polling station on Sunday, did not appear on the roster, despite widespread speculation.

Speculation has risen that the ruler may be grooming his sister to take a supporting role in place of Kim Kyong-hui, who took up a deputy director position at age 30 in 1976 and eventually became a four-star general and party secretary

“The latest list includes no big surprise,” said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior fellow at the private Sejong Institute near Seoul.

“Despite Jang’s purge in December, the roster indicates that there are not so many of his close associates in the North Korean leadership, or at least less than expected from outside.

“The resignation of Kim Kyong-hui will likely take place gradually given her reelection this time and that Kim Yo-jong failed to make it to the list though her name publicly appeared in state media right after the election,” he added.

Thought the assembly works merely as a rubber stamp to make the party’s line and policy legitimate, the roll of deputies after a vote offers a glimpse into the ebb and flow within the North Korean power elite.

The communist state holds elections every five years. The last one was in March 2009 when 99.98 percent of the voters cast their ballots.

Each constituency has only one state-approved candidate and voters were only allowed to mark “yes” on their ballot in a closely-monitored polling booth.

Kim Jong-un’s constituency was Mount Baekdusan, the highest peak on the peninsula, which Pyongyang claims as the sacred birthplace of its late leaders.

The legislature usually meets once or twice a year for a day, with the next session expected to open next month.

On Monday, he attended a performance by military bands as his first public outing since the vote, apparently to boost the soldiers’ morale. He was accompanied by Choe Ryong-hae, Jang Jong-nam, and other aides.

Most pieces highlighted their loyalty to the ruler, the significance of the Baekdu tradition, and their resolve to realize the philosophy of “juche,” or self-reliance.

By Shin Hyon-hee (heeshin@heraldcorp.com)

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